Washington: The US is not going to get involved in “crazy endless wars” over 7,000 miles away, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, defending his decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria.
The last week decision paved the way for Turkey to launch a cross-border military offensive that aims to push the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) from the region. Turkey considers the biggest militia in the SDF a terrorist organisation.
Several lawmakers have criticised the move as an abandonment of Kurdish forces, who were a crucial US ally in the fight against the ISIS.
“When I ran, I ran on the basis we’re going to bring our great soldiers back home where they belong. We don’t have to fight these endless wars. We’re bringing them back home.
“That’s what I won on and some people — whether you call it the ‘military industrial complex’ or beyond that — they’d like me to stay,” Trump told reporters at the White House at a news conference.
The US president hoped that Turkey and Syria will work the situation out between themselves.
The Turkish government wants to create a “safe zone” in the border region, where it can resettle up to two million Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.
Responding to a question, Trump said that the Turkish decision to invade Syria did not surprise him as Turkey had been planning it for long.
“President (Recep Tayyip) Erdogan’s decision didn’t surprise me because he’s wanted to do that for a long time. He’s been building up troops on the border with Syria for a long time, as you know,” he said.
On status of US troops in Syria, Trump said, “Our soldiers are mostly gone from the area. We only had 26, 28 — but under 50. We think it’s probably 28, but under 50 soldiers, and — which is a very tiny force.”
“I campaigned on bringing our soldiers back home, and that’s what I’m doing. That includes other places too; many other places. Statutorily, it takes a period of time. Diplomatically, it takes a period of time.
“But, you know, we’re in many countries. Many, many countries. I’m embarrassed to tell you how many. I know the exact number, but I’m embarrassed to say it because it’s so foolish,” he said.
Trump during the conference said the US had no business in the region “7,000 miles away” and there was no need to worry about Kurdish forces as they are “no angels”.
“It’s their part of the world. We’re 7,000 miles away. It doesn’t mean we’re going to deplete it, like we did before with these crazy, endless wars,” he said.
Remarking on the situation in the region, Trump said they have been warring for many years and this did not surprise him.
“It’s unnatural for us, but it’s sort of natural for them. They fight, and they fight long and they fight hard. They’ve been fighting Syria for a long time and on the border…
“… I say, ‘why are we protecting Syria’s land? (Bashar al-Assad) Assad is not a friend of ours. Why are we protecting their land?” he said.
Syria also has a relationship with the Kurds, “who, by the way, are no angels”, the US president said.
“So they’ll come in for their border and they’ll fight. They may bring partners in. They could bring Russia in. I say, welcome to it,” Trump said.
Russia went into Afghanistan when it was the Soviet Union, and it became a much smaller country, he added.
“You can overextend, you can do a lot of things, but, frankly, if Russia is going to help in protecting the Kurds, that’s a good thing, not a bad thing. But it would be led by Syria,” Trump said.
“Syria doesn’t want Turkey to take its land. I can understand that. But what does that have to do with the United States if they’re fighting over Syria’s land,” he said.
Trump asked are we supposed to fight a NATO member, in order that Syria, who is not our friend, keeps their land. “I don’t think so. But Syria does have a relationship with the Kurds,” he said.
“The thing that’s common is that everybody hates ISIS. Now, the PKK, which is a part of the Kurds, as you know, is probably worse at terror and more of terrorist threat, in many ways, than ISIS. But it’s a semi-complicated problem. I think it’s a problem that we have very nicely under control, Trump said.
Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are travelling to Turkey on Thursday for talks with the government, he said.
“We’ve put massive sanctions on Turkey, and we have additional sanctions,” the US president said.
Trump has imposed sanctions on Turkish ministries and senior officials, proposed to raise steel tariffs and end negotiations on a USD 100 billion trade deal.